FORT PLAIN — Whether it's ramps, fiddleheads, stinging nettles, burdock root, daylilies, spruce tips, or a variety of wild mushrooms, you know it's springtime at the Table at Fort Plain when the menu begins to feature forage.
Part of the concept of Chief Aaron Katovitch's restaurant the Table at Fort Plain is the idea of "farm to table" dining—using locally grown produce, dairy products and wild forage to create menu items that Americans ate a century ago before the mass production of food.
"What I always hear from people is 'my grandfather used to eat that, but I don't know what to do with it,'" Katovitch said.
Katovitch knows what to with forage.
"Oh, I use them everywhere,” he said. “The ramps are going to start going into risottos, pastas, grilled-over meats; we're going to pickle some, so we have them over the summer.”
“The fiddleheads, we normally just use those sauteed,” Katovitch said. “We'll saute them into pasta dishes. We'll saute them and use them as a garnish for meat. Spruce tips, I love with risotto.”
“They just have an interesting flavor, kind of like a strawberry," he added.
Some of the unique items offered at the Table include hickory syrup, made from the bark of the shagbark hickory tree, locally produced cheeses from Danascara Cheese in Fonda and lots of different wild mushrooms.
"Whenever we can find something interesting locally, we're going to use it,” Katovitch said. “We change our menu daily. Things rotate, something comes on, something comes off."
"It's wonderful to find guys who can forage mushrooms,” he said. “One of my friends brought in a huge maitake mushroom last year. It's just wonderful to bring in the forage product."
Maitake mushrooms grow wild and are called "hen of the woods."
Laetiporus sulphureus, known as "chicken of the woods," can also be found on the menu at the Table, provided someone has found some and brought them to Katovitch.
“Chicken of the woods, if you've never had it, we've had guests who insisted that it is a chicken breast when we deep fry it and serve it out,” Katovitch said.
PETER R. BARBER/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER
Pan roasted Amberjack over Mansoor Dahl at The Table Restaurant in Fort Plain Wednesday, April 17, 2019.
“It's a mushroom that grows locally, a shelf mushroom, bright orange," he said, laughing with a little touch of glee. "It's amusing, we've even had a couple of puffballs brought in that we've been able to play with."
Katovitch grew up in Fort Plain, but he learned his skills as a chef going on to the Johnson & Wales College of Culinary Arts, and then eventually earning a bachelor’s degree in multi-unit restaurant operations from Cornell University. He started his career in the Philadelphia area, but decided to open his dream restaurant back home in Fort Plain after he realized there were enough local food producers to provide a unique menu experience.
"I had come home for a couple of funerals, just by happenstance I was looking to start something like this down in the Philadelphia market, and as we were driving around I noticed these wonderful purveyors, wonderful, interesting people doing things up here,” Katovitch said.
“I thought it would be so much more exciting to come up here and do something small than to try to do something down in that market, which would be much more difficult."
He said he also liked Fort Plain's location, located an hour from both Albany and Utica, providing a place for fine-dining fans to meet in the middle.
He said he's been able to succeed since opening the restaurant in 2011 with a plate price point that started at about $20, but has moved up to about $30.
"We've found that our market has moved, we're getting a lot more Albany, Saratoga, Schenectady down to Fort Plain, which has allowed us to move to slightly better cut of meat, a more interesting fish to bring us to that $30 price point," he said.
PETER R. BARBER/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER
An almond pie with caramel and whipped cream at The Table Restaurant in Fort Plain Wednesday, April 17, 2019.
Katovitch said one of the most gratifying things about running his business has been the opportunity to pass on his training, the core of which is in classic French cuisine, to his employees Rebecca Winters and Brandilyn Medina. He said he was recently diagnosed with cancer, and Winters and Medina have been invaluable in maintaining the restaurant while he recovers from his surgical treatments.
"They took my training and they're able to do the kind of work I do. It's wonderful to bring that into the marketplace. It's a nice feeling to know that I gave them that skill," he said.
Winters also now runs what is known as a "third wave coffee shop" called Highwheeler Coffee out of the same address as The Table at Fort Plain.
A third wave coffee shop considers coffee an artisanal product, similar to wine. Highwheeler Coffee gets its name from early versions of the bicycle which featured a large front wheel and a small rear wheel. The shop has one that a devoted customer allowed them to use on display.
More from Dine 2019: Montgomery, Fulton and Schoharie Counties
- C.P.'s Family Restaurant in Hagaman offers memorabilia with its burgers
- Saltman's Hotel choice for servings of food, history in Fulton County
- Johnstown's Union Hall supplies contemporary American cuisine in Revolution-era setting
- Lanzi’s on the Lake in Mayfield is part of long family tradition
- Chef and owner of Broadalbin's SALT cooks outside the box
"It's a beautiful place to just come sit down and relax,” Katovitch said. “The Table is doing some of its desserts, some of its sandwiches; the soups that are over there."
“It lets us use the bike motif to try to capture folks to try to capture folks who are coming down using the canal (bike) trail all summer."